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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Teachers’ rally lets legislators know they are serious about need for higher pay

The turnout of public school teachers and others at the Statehouse Tuesday for “Red for Ed Day” was an impressive show of support — perhaps 20,000 strong — for issues that educators and parents are all concerned about: higher teacher pay and changes in rules on standardized testing and teacher licensing.

But expectations for any immediate actions on teacher pay must be kept in check. This year’s General Assembly put together a two-year budget, and that process won’t occur again until 2021.

Lawmakers were in Indianapolis Tuesday for the ceremonial Organization Day, held to prepare for the opening of the 2020 legislative session in January. About half the schools in Indiana closed for the day so teachers could attend the rally.

News-Sentinel.com supported the demonstration because we believe the need for teacher pay increases and revision of the policy of grading teachers and schools based on test scores is legitimate. And while the demonstration was organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association, the statewide union, we believe the teachers’ concerns transcend either loyalty or opposition to the union itself.

Late in this year’s legislative session lawmakers discovered they would have about $100 million less to work with and decided they had to scrap efforts to get teacher pay increases in the new budget. Extra money might have allowed districts to raise teacher pay significantly through local bargaining for contracts.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, acknowledged there would be no action regarding teacher pay in the coming year’s General Assembly because the budget will not be opened. He said lawmakers are waiting to receive recommendations from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Indiana Teacher Pay Commission, which has been tasked with finding sustainable revenue streams to ensure long-term teacher pay increases.

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer wrote in an email Tuesday that Holcomb, who was not in Indianapolis for the rally due to a long-scheduled commitment to a governors conference in Florida, already has taken action to ensure resources are available to local school corporations so they can increase the compensation of their teachers.

“Earlier this year,” Hupfer wrote, “the governor instructed the state to pay off $150 million in local school pension liabilities. This freed up $150 million in local school budgets across Indiana, which can now be used to give teachers a well-deserved raise.”

Last month, Fort Wayne Community Schools raised teachers’ base salaries 2.5 percent for this year, creating a salary range from $40,078 to $70,891 for the state’s largest school district. The boards of East Allen and Northwest Allen have also approved new contracts with increases as well.

Indianapolis Public Schools recently raised their top pay scale level to $90,000.

Hupfer insists the concerns of Hoosier educators “have been heard and are being acted on.” He listed several actions in support of that claim, including that more than 50% of the state’s annual budget ($17.37 billion) is devoted to K-12 education, that Holcomb and the General Assembly increased education funding by 5 percent to $763 million in this budget cycle and increased education investment by $1.6 billion cumulatively since 2017.

Regarding testing, Senate President Bray said the Legislature is ready to immediately pass a “hold-harmless provision” to protect schools and teachers from the consequences of last spring’s drop in scores in the new ILEARN test that replaced ISTEP-plus. Bray also said it might be wise to tweak a 15-hour requirement for teachers to learn about local jobs as part of licensing.

But the biggest issue is teacher compensation.

We recently cited statistics that the average pay for teachers is $50,218 in Indiana, $2,000-$10,000 lower than all its neighboring states and lower than the estimated average salary nationally for teachers, according to the National Education Association, that in 2017-18 was $60,483. The NEA also showed starting salaries for Indiana teachers averaged $35,943 in 2017-18 compared to the national average of $39,249.

We hope the tremendous outpouring of support through Tuesday’s rally has a huge impact on the Legislature in addressing teacher concerns in the coming year and specifically higher teacher pay when the next two-year budget is addressed in 2021.

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